The Gasp Heard Around the World

He came out of the turn for home heading down the stretch when the unthinkable happened. The crowd gasped in sheer horror.

* * * * * *

When Afleet Alex was born, his mother didn’t produce any milk, and she rejected him despite all of the attempts by the breeder to get her to accept him. Desperation ensued as they tried to find a nurse mare for the foal. While the adults searched, the breeder’s nine-year-old daughter fed him from a sterilized Coors Light bottle faithfully until her father found a mare for the foal.  Because of this, Afleet Alex always had a special place in his heart for children, and because of being bottle fed, he loved human comfort never becoming a typical stallion in demeanor.

The breeder, John Silvertand, was terminally ill at the time of his birth in 2003. Silvertand died in 2007 from cancer, but Afleet Alex helped him deal with all the difficult times ahead he said. This became a theme in this horse’s life.

A little girl named Alex had cancer, and she started a lemonade stand to raise money for other children suffering from the disease. It made national news, and then Alex died. Her parents started a foundation called Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to honor their daughter and raise money to fight childhood cancer. That is when her parents got a phone call:

“I can remember when the phone call came in, my wife Liz took the call, and the person on the other line said simply:

“We own a horse that is pretty good, and we have been donating anonymously to Alex’s cause whenever the horse wins. Would it be okay if we kept donating, but go public with it?”

Because of that phone call, Afleet Alex and his owners helped publicize and raise money for their foundation. This is what horse racing is about; never forgetting your roots.

* * * * * *

Afleet Alex was bought at auction by a group of people called Cash Is King Stables. None of them owned a racehorse before they bought Afleet Alex, and the only reason why they got into horse racing was because of the Smarty Jones fever sweeping the nation at the time. There were ten near winners of the Triple Crown since Affirmed, but they all fell short in the Belmont. After winning the Derby and the Preakness, Triple Crown and Smarty Jones fever infected thousands of people around the nation. Unfortunately, he lost the Belmont like the others. His pedigree was more of a sprinter, but that wasn’t even really it. He couldn’t relax like he did in the Derby and the Preakness setting the Big Sandy on fire with blistering speed that he couldn’t keep up. For the first time in his career, he was undefeated at that point, he was passed up by another horse called Birdstone, and for the first time he lost. Smarty Jones was retired after this race due to repeated bruising of his ankles. People were in love, and they wanted to be part of horse racing; thus, Cash Is King Stables came to be.

Afleet Alex got his name through his sire and the founding owner of the partnership, Chuck Zackney, had a child named Alex as well as two other owners. He was bought as a two-year-old for the group by a top, local trainer named Tim Ritchey for $75,000. Within five weeks, he made his debut at Delaware Park where he won easily by 11 ¼ lengths. As you watch this race, his talent was evident from the beginning. He sat off the pace, and when asked, there was nothing or no one that could stop him. His turn of foot was amazing in this race and the races yet to come.

He won his next race at Delaware Park by 12 lengths. After this, they headed to Saratoga with their eye on the Sanford Stakes but their main goal was the Hopeful Stakes. They won the Sanford by 5 ¾ lengths, but how would he handle the less than ideal conditions for the Hopeful? The slop wasn’t what made this race interesting, but this race shows how green horses can go astray. Who knows why he did this in this race; maybe he saw something, maybe he got spooked a little, maybe he tired a smidgen, or maybe his attention span fluttered a bit, but Afleet Alex veers towards the outside rail as they headed down the stretch. The boisterous crowd became silent. The jockey Jeremy Rose quickly gathered him up bringing him back into the race, and somehow they won by a neck.

Afleet Alex finished second in his next two races and ended his two-year-old season as one of the leading candidates for the Kentucky Derby. To get there, they went through Oaklawn Park where he won his first race. He was the favorite in his next race, the Rebel Stakes, but he came in last, which shocked everyone. People wondered if he hit his peak and was beginning a downhill slide. However, the trainer discovered Afleet Alex had a lung infection when he returned from the race. Nobody believed him stating he was just making excuses for the obvious. This is how it is in racing; people purposely spread rumors and when it comes to the truth, everyone doubts it. Afleet Alex recovered quickly, so Ritchey sent him off in the Arkansas Derby where he showed his amazing burst of speed subduing the competition and winning by eight lengths. All of those critics and doubters were silenced.

He came in third in the Kentucky Derby after a challenging trip and probably being a bit tired from the Arkansas Derby. The race that caused the gasp around the world was the Preakness.

It started off like most races where Afleet Alex tucked in behind the other runners in tenth place waiting for his moment to strike while the winner of the Kentucky Derby was right behind him. The pace in this race wasn’t as fast as it was in the Derby, but it was fast with the half mile clocked at :46 seconds flat. As they entered the turn for home, Alex found himself bottled up on the rail with no place to go. However, a hole opened, and before you knew it, Afleet Alex moved with such speed that it seemed as if all of the horses he picked off were simply walking through the turn. As the leader, Scrappy T was coming out of the turn into the stretch, Afleet Alex was about to pass him on the outside, when Scrappy T’s jockey went to the whip with the left hand driving his horse into the path of Afleet Alex. Afleet Alex clipped heels with Scrappy T going down to his knees spread eagle, his nose hitting the ground while the world gasped in horror as to what they thought they were about to see; a horse falling in a roll getting stomped by who knows how many horses. Rose about to come off could only grasp on to his mane as he slid out of the saddle, and this is when the miracle happened. Afleet Alex pulled himself up, and in so doing his neck knocked Rose back into the saddle. He gathered himself in four strides changing to his right lead, and with fury, pure heart, determination, and pure athleticism won the race by five lengths.

When Rose was asked about the near catastrophe immediately after the race, he said, “He’s just that athletic, and I was just that scared.”

I want to add that none of this was intentional. I don’t think Ramon Dominguez thought Afleet Alex was coming as fast as he was if he even saw him. I also don’t think he expected his horse to move off the crop like that. Also, you can tell it wasn’t intentional, because he was looking backwards, scared about what may happen. If it were intentional, he never would have looked back, and everyone knows how Dominguez loves horses. He was one of the best.

When Afleet Alex and Rose returned to the grandstand the roar from the roar from the standing ovation became louder and louder each time Rose waved to the crowd. People loved these two, and that day they inspired everyone that saw the race.

This horse and so many others are why people love and admire thoroughbreds so much; their courage and their athleticism. However, it is so much more than that. Horses, all horses, teach us by example that we can be better than we are. Maybe someone will get in our way and knock us down, but we can get back up and persevere until we cross that finish line. Maybe we are rejected by the one that we need the most in life, but we can still be kind and loving to others. This is why people love horse racing. It’s not the betting…it’s watching these amazing athletes do amazing things reminding us that we can do them too. It is time we solve the problems within the industry to give back to the horses what they have given us. This is horse racing, and this was the most amazing Preakness.

Author: reenchantedOTTBS

I'm an artist, writer, and a lover of thoroughbreds. I was born and raised in horse racing, and now I wish to help rehome them, educate people about how fantastic they are, and show what they can do.

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